The Independent, January11, 2004, by Hermione Eyre

The Q interview


Firth, 43, spent part of his childhood in Nigeria and the US, where his parents were university lecturers. He attended a Hampshire comprehensive, then went straight from drama school to the West End, in Another Country, also starring in the film version of the same. Firth's other films include The English Patient, Fever Pitch, Bridget Jones's Diary and Shakespeare in Love. In 1995 he became fêted as "the male Ursula Andress" after emerging from a pond as Mr Darcy in the BBC's production of Pride and Prejudice. Firth has three sons: Will, 14, from his relationship with the actress Meg Tilly, and Luca, two, and Mateo, six months, by his wife Livia Giuggiolo. They divide their time between homes in Hampstead and Umbria.

In Girl with a Pearl Earring, you've got rather good teeth for a 17th-century character, if I may say so...

Well, the Dutch were absolutely fastidious about hygiene and cleanliness. The Dutch word for "beauty" is actually the same word for "clean", which shows how much they valued it. They were incredibly bloody civilised.

Are you a clean person?

Yes, I am. It doesn't mean I'm particularly tidy but, oh yeah, even in my most bachelor self, I've never been able to abide dirt. I don't mind papers all over the place but the kitchen and the bathroom have always been well scrubbed.

You sound domesticated—do you cook?

I'm married to an Italian who is a phenomenal cook, and far more fastidiously tidy than I am. I tend to make an outrageous mess in the kitchen. I like to think the results are OK but the process is pretty grisly.

What's the best thing about life in Italy?

Oh, you name it. It's got most things covered, Italy. You can go there for the food alone. The fashion, the sculpture... it really excels in every corner of culture, other than pop music.

Do you feel yourself becoming more English when you're there?

No, but I've spent a lot of time feeling like a bit of an expatriate [Firth lived in Canada for five years during his 30s] and I think that means you often seem more identifiably English, in the old-fashioned sense. I remember coming back from several years away and being told by an old school friend that I'd got plummier. But I don't think I had, you see. I think what had happened was he'd got less plummy, because he'd been listening to Jonathan Ross. There'd been a gradual move towards estuary that I hadn't been party to. Expat Brits don't tend to put on plumminess; they just stay in a time warp. Then they come back speaking like Celia Johnson and no one here still sounds like that, unless they're the Royal Family, or my grandfather.

One of our staff relates how she once dropped her shopping, only to find the person helping her pick up her frozen peas was you.

Really, good heavens... did I? Peas?

Is the moment not as etched on your mind as it is on hers?

I don't remember it, I'm afraid. Don't tell her.

Are you normally chivalrous?

Of course, if someone dropped their shopping I'd help, absolutely. Speaking of supermarkets, people often look at me and shake their heads in kind of funny-old-world disbelief. Then they often get out their mobiles. It's odd to go to the supermarket and find people staring at what you've got in your trolley and telling their friends. You feel as if just by existing, you're a bizarre spectacle.

As an actor, how do you become magnetic?

God, don't ask me. But if you want an earnest answer, you need to be riveted, absolutely spellbound by the person you're looking at. Forget "trying" to be sexy. That's just gruesome.

Thinking of your fight in Bridget Jones, have you ever really been involved in fisticuffs? 

Yes, and I lost very decisively. I got the girl but I lost the fight. Yes, there were marks on my face. But I wasn't being very gallant. I think I spent most of the time running away, actually.

A romantic gesture, nevertheless.

Not really. I think the thing that's required the most courage that I've done in the name of romance was getting married, to be honest. If you're as scared of marriage as I was, it's a pretty romantic thing to have done. That and learning her language, I suppose.

Specifically for courtship in Italian?

Well, it's wonderful to have an excuse to learn a language. Her English is better than my Italian will ever be. But if you're going to live your life with someone you should, as a mark of respect, try to learn their way of conceptualising things.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

Um, it's very haphazard, always. There's an American singer called Kelly Joe Phelps, who I've got quite a passion for. I like the new Blur album, actually. And the Flaming Lips. Do you know them? I like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

They often have celebs dressed as animals on stage at their concerts, don't they? 

I'd expect they probably do. They make me think of New York art school.

Justin Timberlake dressed up as a dolphinwhat would you be?

It's unlikely I'd be tempted. When I see audience participation in a show I reach for my revolver.

Are you stylish, or prone to fashion clangers?

Oh, so many. And the worst thing is I probably liked some of them at the time. I used to wear Rupert trousers. Yes, big flared tartan trousers. Revolting. And, God, my Seventies hair's enough to spend my life apologising for. Vermeer hair. I burnt a lot of my photos from the time.

Is your body a temple or a bike shed?

It's an old converted houseboat moving slowly down the Thames.

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